Is growing your own food worth the cost? Let’s take a look at some ways you can save money when gardening and make your garden a wise investment…
It’s always amusing to me when I see posts about how expensive it is to grow your own food (you know the ones – “the $60 tomato,” etc.). While it’s true that there are some up-front costs to starting a new garden, there are plenty of ways to garden on a budget, and in total, growing your own food can actually reduce your grocery bills by hundreds of dollars per year if you do it right.
If you really want to save money on your garden, you will want to practice frugality wherever you can. This may mean opting for in-ground row-style gardening rather than raised beds, cleaning and reusing plant containers and seed-starting supplies, and, of course, starting your own seeds.
There are lots more little ways you can save money while gardening. For example, by saving your own seeds (you will want to make sure they are open-pollinated varieties), you’ll not only save on the cost of seeds, but also improve the health and productivity of your plants over time as they adapt to your specific climate conditions. Growing specific crops that cost a premium to buy at the store can also reduce your grocery bill.
Making your own compost is not only a simple and sustainable way to reduce waste, but it also provides you with a rich soil amendment that you won’t have to purchase at the store. And getting creative with other types of waste (manure, fallen leaves, or even fish carcasses) can provide your garden with lots of nutrients basically for free.
Use what you have available wherever possible. Reclaimed lumber (make sure it’s not treated with chemicals), stones, and even old cinder blocks can be used to build economical raised beds.
I am a very frugal person and am always looking for ways to reduce costs, and the garden is no exception! Here are just a few ways that we save money on our garden:
1.) We use free or low-cost local resources whenever possible
When we first started our garden, it was just a patch of grass in our field on our new property. My husband tilled up part of the area the first year, and with lots of effort, I dug up the broken sod, pulled out grass roots, and built up some piles of soil to create somewhat-raised beds. It was very weedy that first year, and we got so much rain that summer that sometimes our beds resembled islands!
However, the saving grace for our garden that year was the fact that a local farmer came and hayed the rest of our land, and traded us some hay bales for the rest of the hay. That was our first year gardening in hay bales, and these free bales were our most successful garden “beds” that year.
Although we no longer get free bales (the old farmer retired, and the fellow who mows our land these days can only make large round bales, which aren’t as conducive to gardening), we have located a local source of organic hay bales, which, at $3/bale (we usually buy last year’s hay at a discount), costs us roughly $60 for the year.
Experimentation over the last several years has helped us determine which crops grow best in hay bales, and which are more productive in the soil beds, so we are able to optimize our yields.
This year, we harvested 36 lbs of organic potatoes from 6 hay bales (granted, it was a banner year due to all the rain), which would have cost us at least $50 at the store. We typically make about 12-18 quarts of canned tomatoes from our bale-grown paste tomatoes, and harvest many pounds of peppers, squashes, and melons from the remaining bales. I would estimate that we harvest at least twice the amount of food (cost-wise) from our hay bales each year as we spend on them. After harvest, the used hay bales are added back to the garden as mulch, or retired to the compost pile, where they break down into beautiful compost for next year’s garden.
Note: We eventually did buy cedar fencing boards to frame out our raised beds, and while we initially spent a few hundred dollars over a couple of years to build 17 bed frames, they only need a few boards replaced every 6 years or so, and they keep our garden much neater and easier to maintain.
2.) We make connections
Sometimes, saving money in the garden can be about who you know. Building connections with other local farmers and gardeners can be one of the most rewarding aspects of growing your own food!
For example, in recent years, we have learned that we can keep the weeds down by filling the pathways with wood chips, which then only require light weeding a few times per summer. We get the chips free from Chip Drop, or local tree trimmers that we have a personal connection with.
While we did purchase a load of compost to get our garden started that first year, since then, we have made our own compost, sometimes supplemented with a load of sheep manure from an organic farmer contact. Since we began raising our own chickens a couple of years ago, we’ve had no shortage of rich, lovely, and free compost – and the garden is thriving because of it!
Getting to know others in your community can lead you to lots of free and low-cost resources for your garden that you may be able to get via barter, trade, or simply good will!
3.) We save and start our own seeds
As I mentioned above, starting your own seeds can save you a LOT of money. In fact, many times, a packet of seeds containing at least enough seeds to grow 25 plants will be cheaper than or equal to one single seedling at a nursery! And most seeds will last for several years if properly stored, so if you don’t plant them all, you don’t have to buy more every single year.
Saving your own seeds (from open-pollinated or heirloom varieties) will save you even the minimal cost of purchasing seeds from the store. Seeds that we commonly save from our own garden include tomatoes, herbs (like dill and cilantro), ground cherries, dry beans, and various flowers.
4.) We reuse everything as much as possible
Most garden supplies can be used over and over. The most expensive items you’ll usually need for your garden (assuming you start your own seeds) are tools and seed-starting supplies. Good-quality garden tools should last you a lifetime, so you’ll only need to purchase them once. Seed-starting supplies such as seed-starting trays and containers can usually be rinsed and reused for many years. You can also repurpose various household containers for potted plants or make your own containers for starting seedlings if you don’t want to buy them. We do sometimes purchase organic seed-starting mix if I’m feeling lazy, but one bag usually lasts us 2-3 years, and you can also mix up your own to save a bit of money if you’re feeling ambitious.
You can also “reuse” your garden and kitchen waste as fertilizer for your garden – either via sheet composting or regular composting methods. Either way, you’ll be reducing waste going to the landfill, while providing nutritious food for your garden!
These tips can help you save a lot more money than you’ll spend on your garden, and if you get creative and develop a habit of looking for ways to be frugal, I think you’ll find that the benefits of growing your own food FAR outweigh the costs – even on just a monetary basis.
Want more? This podcast episode from Pioneering Today shares some other thoughts about saving money when gardening:
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